Tag Archives: Queens Hall


Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh 

Edinburgh born, and now resident there again, pianist Susan Tomes is a career chamber musician whose work with the Florestan Trio took her all over the world, but whose first global accolades came with a piano quartet, and specifically the second work featured in this latest online offering from the players of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. 

If that C Minor Piano Quartet by Gabriel Faure and the even more familiar and popular G Minor Quartet by Mozart are works Tomes must have played countless times, there is a zestful freshness – doubtless partly occasioned by her enforced recent absence from the concert platform – that is unmistakable in these performances. 

Joined by violinist Maria Wloszczowska, violist Felix Tanner, and cellist Philip Higham, this quartet may have been assembled for the occasion, but its combined experience is evident in the secure balance and instinctive communication across both works. For much of the time it is the string players who provide the muscle when it is needed, while Tomes conveys effortless poise. Some well-chosen camera angles mean that piano students can appreciate that at close quarters. 

The publisher Hoffmeister was famously dismayed by the challenges the work he commissioned from Mozart presented to his customers, but if he failed to read past the bold rhythmic opening of the first movement, he missed the Andante’s lovely conversation between violin and piano and the sequence of arpeggios on the strings that follows, with Higham’s rich tone especially ear-catching here. 

Not only is there a beautiful clarity in the recorded balance of this performance – and the extra space currently required between the players may well be assisting that – but the ability to easily appreciate the sound of the individual instruments melds with a lovely ensemble coherence. That is especially appreciable in the lightness of touch all four bring to the sparkling opening of the finale. 

Faure’s Quartet No.1 was three turbulent years in the writing and substantially revised four years later, in the year of his marriage, when the original Finale was discarded. How much of the work is autobiographical is a matter of debate, but the Adagio third movement sounds very much the work of a heart-broken man here. 

In her spoken introduction, Tomes draws attention to the churchy cadences of the work, and there is also something of a vocal quality to the opening movement, written during Faure’s engagement to a young singer whose voice was admired by Clara Schumann. The Scherzo that follows is more musically adventurous and exploratory and is performed by this team with delightful playfulness (although its changes would surely have terrified Hoffmeister a century earlier). 

Wherever Faure’s music originally went after that third movement, the fourth that we have is the sound of a chap striding through his misery. Although still elegant, Tomes unleashes some power, alongside that of her string partners, leading to a concluding few bars of wonderfully committed expression. 

Available via the SCO website and YouTube channel until April 11. 

Keith Bruce 

Six New SCO Concerts

The Scottish Chamber Orchestra has followed the RSNO in announcing a new clutch of digital concerts which will be recorded at Edinburgh’s Queen’s Hall and Perth Concert Hall and broadcast free on Thursday evenings on the SCO’s YouTube channel and Facebook site.

The six concert season in March and April concludes with a world premiere from the orchestra’s Associate Composer Anna Clyne. Overflow, inspired by the poetry of Emily Dickinson and Jalaluddin Rumi, is for a group of wind soloists and will be directed from the oboe by Nicholas Daniel. That concert, on April 15, also includes music by Caplet and Dvorak, and it will, like everything in the season, be available to view free for 30 days after first transmission.

The season begins with an established showpiece for the orchestra’s principal clarinet, Maximiliano Martin. Sir James MacMillan’s Tuireadh, a lament for the victims of the Piper Alpha disaster in the North Sea, features on Martin’s recent Delphian disc with the Orquesta Sinfonica de Tenerife. It will be played on March 4 in its original version for clarinet and string quartet in a programme that also includes Britten’s Phantasy Quartet and Prokofiev’s Quintet in G Minor.

Piano Quartets by Mozart and Faure feature in the other new Queen’s Hall concert, on March 11, when violinist Maria Mloszczowska, Felix Tanner on viola, and principal cello Philip Higham are joined by pianist Susan Tomes.

The first of the run of concerts from Perth, on March 18, is an all-20th century programme of chamber music, pairing two familiar male names from Russia, Prokofiev and Shostakovich, with a wind quintet by Poland’s Grazyna Bacewicz and a trio for oboe, clarinet and bassoon by Czech composer Vitezslava Kapralova.

The following week has a focus on percussion in a programme that sees Reich, Part, Andriessen and Britain’s Dani Howard, who is still in her 20s, bracketed by two works from Henry Purcell.

The penultimate concert, on April 8, features baritone Marcus Farnsworth, who is also due to appear alongside soprano Susanna Hurrell with the RSNO in May. In Perth he features in a recital of rare baroque repertoire including works by Telemann, Biber, Froberger, Muffat, Schop and J C Bach.

Full details and instructions on watching and listening to the concerts are available at sco.org.ukKeith Bruce

SCO : Czech music

Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh

Hot on the heels of her star turn in the SCO’s first 2021 foray into the Igor Stravinsky jubilee repertoire, The Soldier’s Tale, the chamber orchestra offers a Wild Night in the company of percussionist Louise Goodwin in its latest online concert.

And that’s not the half of it, because this recital – of mostly 20th century Czech music – also includes two colourful visits to the theatre and kicks off with some charming, but rarely heard, salon music. Dvorak, the composer of the latter, and Martinu, whose music ends the programme, are the better-known names, but Scotland can boast particular connections with the other two: Hans Krasa and Pavel Haas. 

Krasa’s children’s opera Brundibar was a rediscovered centrepiece in the exploration of the music composed in Terezin concentration camp at Stirling’s Macrobert Arts Centre some years back, and the string quartet named after Pavel Haas, who was also imprisoned there and also died in Auschwitz, made its UK debut at Orkney’s St Magnus Festival after winning a European competition at which Sir Peter Maxwell Davies was a judge.

There is an elegant simplicity to the four easy pieces – “Miniatures” in his catalogue – that Dvorak composed in 1887 for himself and two friends to play, performed here by violinists Ruth Crouch and Amira Bedrush-McDonald with Brian Schiele on viola, and the closing Elegie hints at some of the darkness that surrounds the music that follows. Piano, percussion, flute, piccolo, clarinet and trumpet join the strings for the Brundibar Suite, arranged from the opera’s full score for the Nash Ensemble by David Matthews in 2011, and faithful to the instrumentation Krasa had to work with in Terezin.

The cabaret feel to the band is particularly evident from the music’s percussive edge, not just in Goodwin’s hands but also those of pianist Aaron Shorr and Shiele’s banjo-imitating pizzicato viola. The seven short movements of the suite end with a march that is easier to imagine a battalion in step with than the one in Martinu’s louche four-movement La Revue de Cuisine. 

Martinu made this suite for sextet from the music he composed for a bonkers ballet about the private lives of kitchen utensils, written in Paris in 1927. As well as some wonderful writing for Eric de Wit’s cello, it is coloured by the bassoon of Paul Boyes at the top of its range and the selection of mutes varying the voice of Peter Franks’ instrument in a style the trumpet section in Duke Ellington’s band knew well.

That promised Wild Night is the 4th Movement of Pavel Haas’ String Quartet No 2 “From the Monkey Mountains” for which the composer specified the defining addition of percussion, a score detail often ignored in string quartet performances. Not only does Louise Goodwin’s contribution here emphasise the jazz influences in the music, in this context it underlines the sadder question of where both Haas and Krasa may have taken their music given the opportunity to exchange ideas with artists elsewhere that Martinu was fortunate to enjoy.
Keith Bruce

This performance is available to view via the SCO’s Facebook page and YouTube channel until February 14.

SCO / Bacewicz / Bach / Beethoven

Queens Hall, Edinburgh

In referring to the three “B”s in classical music, we usually mean Bach, Beethoven and Brahms. This SCO strings-only programme went two-thirds of the way, replacing the Romantic Brahms with the more modernist voice of the 20th century Polish composer Grazyna Bacewicz. 

Not that she is as obscure as was probably the case before Covid. Social distancing has given some of her more economically-scored works a practical and convenient attractiveness that goes beyond their intrinsic musical charm. The latter quality was in full view in the 1949 work chosen to open the programme, the Quartet for Four Violins.

It belongs to that period in her compositional journey, post-World War II, when Bacewicz embraced neoclassical principles, in her case owing much to the influences of folk music. It’s not long in this three movement quartet, beyond the wiry austerity of the eerie opening Allegretto, before the music changes gear and rustic ribaldry sets in.

The echoes of Bartok are unmistakable, yet with a stamp of individuality and beautifully crafted string writing (Bacewicz was, herself, a notable violinist) set on edge by the electrifying synergy of four violins. This quartet of SCO fiddlers formed an incisive ensemble, evenly matched and harnessing as a result the work’s full dynamic potential, from the sustained soulfulness of the slow movement to the razor-sharp energy of the finale.

If the SCO’s remarkable versatility is surfacing with regularity in these Thursday night chamber music releases, here was another example, as the music switched from Bacewicz to Bach, and a breathtaking medley from Bach’s Art of Fugue. In four of the Contrapuncti leader Benjamin Marquise Gilmore led a string section that adopted a convincing Baroque performance style.

It wasn’t simply the technical absence of vibrato, but a more deep-rooted purity of tone that gave these performances such a richness of texture more often associated with the best of period bands. Every strand of Bach’s increasingly complex counterpoint bore its own personality and sense of place without ever destroying the gorgeous combined homogeneity. The chorale prelude “Vor deinen Thron tret’ich hiermit” – applied to the collection when it was posthumously published by Bach’s son – was a heavenly way to bring such a sublime musical offering to a close. 

The peacefulness was immediately shattered by a full string version of Beethoven’s Grosse Fuge, a monstrous masterpiece conceived as the original finale to Beethoven’s Op 130 String Quartet. To hear it filled out like this is to witness an exaggeration of its anger and intensity, which was both gripping and fearsome. The downside was some raggedness of attack and intonation, particularly within the first violins. Just one weak moment, however, in an hour’s worth of delights.
Ken Walton


Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh

“Let’s go party in Paris”. Scottish Chamber Orchestra principal flautist Andre Cebrian might easily have uttered such an invitation – he more or less did – in his spoken introduction to Poulenc’s saucy 1932 Sextet, a work for wind quintet and piano that opens with a champagne pop and enjoys itself to the last.
It was the opening work in the latest of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra’s digital chamber music series.

The other was the substantial Nonet by Louise Farrenc, a 19th century Parisian composer, known as “the female Beethoven”, and notable not just for the fact she was a woman who stamped her forcible mark in a 19th century man’s world, but because her music was especially good.

Poulenc’s “pop of the cork” had the impact it should, an immediate explosion of musical fizz to set in motion the raucous comedy, wicked satire, anarchic sentiment and rollercoaster energy that forever distinguishes his bittersweet style. 

These SCO players lapped it up, capturing the acerbic inevitability of the opening Allegro vivace with its fruity melodies underpinned by vamped grotesquerie; filling the easeful comfort of the central Andantino with hints of exotic colour; and conquering the spicy duplicity of the Finale – where solo virtuosity vies with collegiate solidarity – through to its simmering conclusion.

Written around 100 years previously, Farrenc’s Nonet is more sobering, but no less intriguing. Symphonic in all but name, and scored for a mini-orchestra texture – wind quintet in partnership with violin, viola, cello and double bass – this was a performance that respected its shapely, stylish refinement.

The warmth that radiated from its gentle, meaningful slow introduction established a mood of composure that informed the ensuing graceful Allegro and subsequent movements. Farrenc’s writing flows effortlessly but with calculated brilliance – as the only female professor at the Paris Conservatoire she famously campaigned for equal pay and got it – which the ensemble embraced, minuscule slippages aside, in a deliciously tasteful, engaging performance.
Ken Walton

Image: André Cebrián credit Nacho Morán